The Good Samaritan and the Better Samaritan (Who's Actually a Jew)


When I think back to my early days of Sunday School, what I remember most vividly are the stories.  Each week biblical scenes came to life through flannel graph depictions and dramatic readings.  My favorites were always the ones with animals: Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale.  But for some reason, Jesus’ story about the Good Samaritan has always impressed me.  Even as a young boy, there was something about it that was compelling.  It made sense to me; I knew it wasn’t right to ignore somebody who needed help and I wanted to be like the Good Samaritan—the hero!  Indeed, that was the lesson I heard as a boy: Be like the Good Samaritan.  Years later, I still want to be like the Good Samaritan.  And yet, when I read this story now as an adult and try to find myself within it, the Good Samaritan is not the character with whom I most identify.

The entire account is found in Luke 10:25-37.  It begins with a conversation between Jesus and a lawyer, who asked what he must do to gain eternal life.  Jesus responded by quoting Scripture: Love God totally and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.  But trying to be clever and “desiring to justify himself” (v. 29), the lawyer then asked Jesus to clarify who exactly his neighbors were.  Thus, Jesus responded with the following story:

There was a Jewish man who was attacked by robbers and left for dead by the side of the Jericho road.  A priestwent by, saw the man, but crossed to the other side of the road just to avoid him.  Later, a Levite passed by andblatantly ignored the man as well.  But then, a Samaritan in the middle of long journey, saw the man and had compassion on him.  Unlike the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan went straight to the man.  He tended to the man’s wounds, binding them up and dressing them.  Then he lifted the man up and placed him on his own animal, for he was too injured to walk.  He took the man to an inn where he continued to care for him and then settled his bill with the innkeeper, promising to cover all of the man’s expenses.

At this point, Jesus put a question to the lawyer, asking him which man was a neighbor to the one who was attacked and left for dead.  “The one who showed him mercy,” (v. 37a) the lawyer concluded.  To which Jesus simply replied, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37b).

As much as I wish I could say that I faithfully “Go and do likewise,” the truth is, I don’t.  I fail at this.  My love for God and neighbor is imperfect, inconsistent, and all too often swallowed up by my love of self.  Most days, I can identify more with the priest, Levite, or even the man beaten up and left for dead than the Good Samaritan.  I don’t feel like a hero.  And that, I think, is actually the point of this parable.  Neither the lawyer nor I can justify ourselves.  The only one who can justify us is the one who’s telling the story.  But I don’t think Jesus is just telling a story, I think he’s also inserted himself into it.  Remember that Jesus is sharing this parable just after he set off toward Jerusalem.  He’s on his way to the cross.  Veiled in this parable seems to be a picture of his entire redemptive work.

Like the Good Samaritan, though he was different from us, Jesus came near to us.  Out of compassion for us, he saved our lives.  He bound up our wounds and raised us up.  At great cost to himself, he paid our debts and rescued us from enslavement.  Everything the Good Samaritan did, Jesus did better.  Jesus is the Better Samaritan (who’s actually a Jew).  And when I see that, I want to “Go, and do likewise,” not to be the hero, but to express gratitude to Jesus, the real hero of this story.

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